The People Vs. Fossil Fuels actions this past week in Washington, DC—655 arrests!—brought back a lot of memories. In November of 1972 I was living in DC when the continent-wide Trail of Broken Treaties arrived there and took over the Bureau of Indian Affairs. I spent time outside the BIA building in the evenings in support. Then, several months later, after local activists and the American Indian Movement occupied buildings in Wounded Knee, SD on the Pine Ridge Reservation, and after a call went out for non-Indigenous people to come there in support, I did so. I stayed for two-plus weeks, helping to set up a support and communications office in Rapid City.
The leadership and visibility and inspiration and music and drumming and actions of Indigenous people from around what is now called the United States were such a very big deal this past week! To feel and experience this beating heart of resistance from peoples who have been under a terrible and wicked, life-draining siege for so long; to be moved by and dance to the sound of the drums; to be inspired by the deep, deep earth wisdom of Casey Camp Horinek; to be there able to respond and actively support the flag pole actions at the Army Corps of Engineers Tuesday afternoon; to be able to support the sit-in led by elders inside the Bureau of Indian Affairs/DOI building Thursday afternoon—these are experiences I will not forget.
Each day of the week began with well-organized actions at the White House. There were very big puppets and colorful banners and flags made by people who knew what they were doing, visuals to go along with the theatre of negotiated arrests by the police of the scores of people daily clogging the sidewalk right next to the White House fence. Throughout all this time each day of marching to and arriving at the White House, setting things up, being given three warnings by the police, and then the arrests, there were short, amplified presentations by frontline leaders of fights against new fossil fuel infrastructure all over the country–Alaska, New Mexico, Texas, Minnesota, Virginia, West Virginia, Louisiana, Nebraska, California, Alabama, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York and more. There were passionate chants and singing.
Other dramatic actions took place Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons.
Tuesday’s was at the Army Corps of Engineers. The focus was on Line 3 in Minnesota. A million signatures on petitions was presented, calling for the Army Corps to step in, stop Line 3 and do a serious Environmental Impact Study. Indigenous speakers reported on the piercing of the water aquifers under the pipeline and numerous other violations by Enbridge, their overt attempts to cover it all up, their lies, and the spinelessness of the Army Corps in response. Then, after the stirring rally concluded and a giant round dance was taking place by the hundreds of people gathered there on the street, strong, nonviolent direct action was undertaken: two Indigenous activists, supported by others, began working their way up the two 35 foot or so flag poles flanking the front of the building. For close to two hours they were up there. An American flag was turned upside down, a distress signal, and pro-Indigenous sovereignty banners were held up by the activists clinging to the poles.
Recognizing the determination of and number of people willing to defend our climate warriors, the police never moved in to try to bring them down. Ultimately, they came down on their own, slipped away and the action ended.
The next day we went to the home of Jaime Pinckam, head of the Army Corps, an upper-income condominium complex across the river in Arlington, Va. Hundreds of us were loud and boisterous with chants and speeches calling him out for his dereliction of duty for all his neighbors to hear.
Then on Thursday Indigenous activists surprised the Bureau of Indian Affairs/Department of the Interior security with a lobby sit-in by 55 people, most of whom were arrested, some roughly. They brought with them a list of demands, which included: Abolition of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Restoration of 110 million acres of land taken away from Native Nations, and Bring home our children buried at your residential schools.
Friday morning was the last day of action, a youth-led march from the White House to Congress. To the sound of the drums and Native songs, 90 people were arrested sitting in at an intersection a few blocks from the Capitol.
There was a great deal of press coverage of this week of action. White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked about Biden’s response to our demands at a nationally-televised, Thursday press conference. Her response, in effect, was that he is focused on getting Congress to pass Build Back Better legislation that includes action on climate. Perhaps, hopefully, and only because of continuing, unrelenting pressure, he and his administration and obstructionists in Congress like Manchin and Sinema will realize that, as was said throughout the week, that if you don’t respect us, expect us. There ain’t no power like the power of the people when organized peoples, joining together, don’t stop.
Ted Glick is a volunteer organizer with Beyond Extreme Energy and president of 350NJ-Rockland. Past writings and other information, including about Burglar for Peace and 21st Century Revolution, two books published by him in 2020 and 2021, can be found at https://tedglick.com. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jtglick.